Tag Archives: society

Pregnant man

This story ran in the Scotsman today. In the past I have shied away from those traditional “News of the World” style stories, but frankly I was fascinated by this and its implications. Mr Beatie appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and the footage was syndicated all over the world. What I was most taken with was Oprah’s statement at the end of her feature – saying it was a new definition of what diversity means for everybody. Maybe we will look back on this story in fifty years time and find it “everyday”- and not even worthy of comment.

A TRANSGENDER man who is six months pregnant said in a television interview yesterday that he had always wanted to have a child and considers it “a miracle”.
“It’s not a male or female desire to have a child. It’s a human desire,” said thinly bearded Thomas Beatie, who was once a teenage beauty queen.

“I have a very stable male identity,” he added, in an interview, broadcast on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the United States.

Mr Beatie, 34, who lives in Oregon, was born a woman but decided to become a man ten years ago.

He began taking testosterone treatment and had breast surgery to remove glands and flatten his chest.

“I opted not to do anything with my reproductive organs because I wanted to have a child one day,” he said.

Mr Beatie’s wife, Nancy, said she inseminated him with a syringe, using sperm purchased from a sperm bank.

Now, he said, his size 32 jeans were getting a bit tight and his shirts a bit stretched.

Mrs Beatie, to whom he has been married for five years and who has two grown daughters by a previous marriage, also appeared on the show, saying the couple’s roles will not change once the baby, a girl, is born.

“He’s going to be the father and I’m going to be the mother,” she said.

Their marriage is legal and he is recognised under Oregon state law as a man.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she’s inside me,” said Mr Beatie.

His obstetrician, Dr Kimberly James, who practises in the town of Bend, where the couple live, told Winfrey: “This is a normal pregnancy.

This baby is totally healthy.”

The Beaties said they decided to go public so they could control the way the news got out. “We’re just going to have the baby now,” Mrs Beatie said. “If we have to, we’ll go hide.”

Winfrey called the development “a new definition of what diversity means for everybody.”

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Food stamps. An unfortunate marker of economic change.

This feature in the New York Times caught my eye today, lucidly written by Erik Eckholm. As the American economy continues to feel the impact of the r word – and I don’t mean rain – it looks like more Americans than ever before are having to use their equivalent of a social benefit scheme, the food stamp. An instrument whereby poor people can buy food for their families using an exchangeable coupon. Only for food. And not, as the rules say, for “deli” food. Only in America.

Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.

The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.

But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 — to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.

The percentage of Americans receiving food stamps was higher after a recession in the 1990s, but actual numbers are expected to be higher this year.

Federal benefit costs are projected to rise to $36 billion in the 2009 fiscal year from $34 billion this year.

“People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut,” said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.

One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps. “Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we’re at an all-time record level,” said Maureen Sorbet, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.

The climb in food stamp recipients there has been relentless, through economic upturns and downturns, reflecting a steady loss of industrial jobs that has pushed recipient levels to new highs in Ohio and Illinois as well.

“We’ve had poverty here for a good while,” Ms. Sorbet said. Contributing to the rise, she added, Michigan, like many other states, has also worked to make more low-end workers aware of their eligibility, and a switch from coupons to electronic debit cards has reduced the stigma.

Some states have experienced more recent surges. From December 2006 to December 2007, more than 40 states saw recipient numbers rise, and in several — Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and Rhode Island — the one-year growth was 10 percent or more.

In Rhode Island, the number of recipients climbed by 18 percent over the last two years, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the population. This is the highest total in the last dozen years or more, said Bob McDonough, the state’s administrator of family and adult services, and reflects both a strong enlistment effort and an upward creep in unemployment.

In New York, a program to promote enrollment increased food stamp rolls earlier in the decade, but the current climb in applications appears in part to reflect economic hardship, said Michael Hayes, spokesman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The additional 67,000 clients added from July 2007 to January of this year brought total recipients to 1.86 million, about one in 10 New Yorkers.

Nutrition and poverty experts praise food stamps as a vital safety net that helped eliminate the severe malnutrition seen in the country as recently as the 1960s. But they also express concern about what they called the gradual erosion of their value.

Food stamps are an entitlement program, with eligibility guidelines set by Congress and the federal government paying for benefits while states pay most administrative costs.

Eligibility is determined by a complex formula, but basically recipients must have few assets and incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or less than $27,560 for a family of four.

As a share of the national population, food stamp use was highest in 1994, after several years of poor economic growth, with an average of 27.5 million recipients per month from a lower total of residents. The numbers plummeted in the late 1990s as the economy grew and legal immigrants and certain others were excluded.

But access by legal immigrants has been partly restored and, in the current decade, the federal and state governments have used advertising and other measures to inform people of their eligibility and have often simplified application procedures.

Because they spend a higher share of their incomes on basic needs like food and fuel, low-income Americans have been hit hard by soaring gasoline and heating costs and jumps in the prices of staples like milk, eggs and bread.

At the same time, average family incomes among the bottom fifth of the population have been stagnant or have declined in recent years at levels around $15,500, said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

The benefit levels, which can amount to many hundreds of dollars for families with several children, are adjusted each June according to the price of a bare-bones “thrifty food plan,” as calculated by the Department of Agriculture. Because food prices have risen by about 5 percent this year, benefit levels will rise similarly in June — months after the increase in costs for consumers.

Advocates worry more about the small but steady decline in real benefits since 1996, when the “standard deduction” for living costs, which is subtracted from family income to determine eligibility and benefit levels, was frozen. If that deduction had continued to rise with inflation, the average mother with two children would be receiving an additional $37 a month, according to the private Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Both houses of Congress have passed bills that would index the deduction to the cost of living, but the measures are part of broader agriculture bills that appear unlikely to pass this year because of disagreements with the White House over farm policy.

Another important federal nutrition program known as WIC, for women, infants and children, is struggling with rising prices of milk and cheese, and growing enrollment.

The program, for households with incomes no higher than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, provides healthy food and nutrition counseling to 8.5 million pregnant women, and children through the age of 4. WIC is not an entitlement like food stamps, and for the fiscal year starting in October, Congress may have to approve a large increase over its current budget of $6 billion if states are to avoid waiting lists for needy mothers and babies.

Golf balls and condoms.

I read this article in physorg.com today – an amusing notion I thought. However, the thought of a better performing condom certainly would appeal to most people.

You wouldn’t normally associate golf balls with condoms but for University of Queensland researcher Dr Darren Martin, it is all about covering things.

Dr Martin, a materials scientist with UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, has developed a unique polyurethane coating that is thinner, stronger and more flexible than what is currently available and could lead to better golf balls and condoms.

The secret to his discovery is synthetic nanoparticles – nanoscale disc-like particles –that can be added to conventional thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) to extend its benefits and performance. TPUs are used in everything from surfing leg ropes and rollerblade wheels, to soles on shoes and textiles and fabrics like Lycra.

And while many great scientific discoveries can be attributed to a burning desire to help humankind, Dr Martin’s inspiration was much simpler.

“I’m a single-figure golfer and I was getting frustrated with paying a lot of money for balls that only end up getting damaged after a few holes,” Dr Martin said.

“We had been working with these nanocomposites for a while and this just seemed like a natural fit.

“By coating the ball in a thin layer of our new polyurethane it can make them much more scuff resistant.”

While in talks with a golf ball manufacturer now, Dr Martin and his team are also exploring other applications.

“The condom is another example of where our technology might be applied,” he said.

“We could make softer and thinner condoms that allow greater sensitivity and are actually stronger than current ones, while also reducing the risk of allergic response which some people have to latex rubber. We can all see the advantages of that application.”

Not limited to the golf green and the bedroom, Dr Martin said the potential applications for the technology are expanding.

“Wherever polyurethane is used, our technology can be used,” he said.

“Areas such as implantable medical device components, the mining industry and new types of textiles similar to Lycra and Spandex.”

He said he was doing this through TenasiTech Pty Ltd, a start-up company formed around the technology by UniQuest – the main technology transfer company for UQ – with the company driving the business development and capital raising to further develop the technology towards products.

Antidisestablishmentarianism revisited.

antidisestabohwtf
Of course we all know that antidisestablishmentarianism means
a political philosophy opposed to the separation of a religious group (“church”) and a government (“state”), especially with regard to the belief held by those in 19th century England opposed to separating the Anglican church from the civil government.At times like this when the head of the Church of England starts to pontificate (sic) about shariah law in England (today’s Sun headline : What a burkah), the issue of homogeneity of church and state is brought to the fore. Especially when you read this very clearly written piece about the subject from a specialist blog from Denis J. Wiechman, Jerry D. Kendall, and Mohammad K. Azarian who I believe study at the University of Illinois:

The most difficult part of Islamic Law for most westerners to grasp is that there is no separation of church and state. The religion of Islam and the government are one. Islamic Law is controlled, ruled and regulated by the Islamic religion. The theocracy controls all public and private matters. Government, law and religion are one. There are varying degrees of this concept in many nations, but all law, government and civil authority rests upon it and it is a part of Islamic religion. There are civil laws in Muslim nations for Muslim and non-Muslim people. Shar’iah is only applicable to Muslims. Most Americans and others schooled in Common Law have great difficulty with that concept.The U.S. Constitution (Bill of Rights) prohibits the government from “establishing a religion.” The U.S. Supreme Court has concluded in numerous cases that the U.S. Government can’t favour one religion over another. That concept is implicit for most U.S. legal scholars and many U.S. academicians believe that any mixture of “church and state” is inherently evil and filled with many problems. They reject all notions of a mixture of religion and government.

The blog that comes from is here.

I invite you to contrast the lucid and clear quality of that with the liberal intellectual tones of “our own” church spokesperson, as published in the guardian where you can read the text in full if you so please.

arch of cantThe first objection to a higher level of public legal regard being paid to communal identity is that it leaves legal process (including ordinary disciplinary process within organisations) at the mercy of what might be called vexatious appeals to religious scruple. A recent example might be the reported refusal of a Muslim woman employed by Marks and Spencer to handle a book of Bible stories. Or we might think of the rather more serious cluster of questions around forced marriages, where again it is crucial to distinguish between cultural and strictly religious dimensions. While Bradney rightly cautions against the simple dismissal of alleged scruple by judicial authorities who have made no attempt to understand its workings in the construction of people’s social identities, it should be clear also that any recognition of the need for such sensitivity must also have a recognised means of deciding the relative seriousness of conscience-related claims, a way of distinguishing purely cultural habits from seriously-rooted matters of faith and discipline, and distinguishing uninformed prejudice from religious prescription. There needs to be access to recognised authority acting for a religious group: there is already, of course, an Islamic Shari’a Council, much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK; and if we were to see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity, we should need a much enhanced and quite sophisticated version of such a body, with increased resource and a high degree of community recognition, so that ‘vexatious’ claims could be summarily dealt with. The secular lawyer needs to know where the potential conflict is real, legally and religiously serious, and where it is grounded in either nuisance or ignorance. There can be no blank cheques given to unexamined scruples.

The second issue, a very serious one, is that recognition of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women. The ‘forced marriage’ question is the one most often referred to here, and it is at the moment undoubtedly a very serious and scandalous one; but precisely because it has to do with custom and culture rather than directly binding enactments by religious authority, I shall refer to another issue. It is argued that the provision for the inheritance of widows under a strict application of sharia has the effect of disadvantaging them in what the majority community might regard as unacceptable ways. A legal (in fact Qur’anic) provision which in its time served very clearly to secure a widow’s position at a time when this was practically unknown in the culture becomes, if taken absolutely literally, a generator of relative insecurity in a new context (see, for example, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights. Tradition and Politics, 1999, p.111). The problem here is that recognising the authority of a communal religious court to decide finally and authoritatively about such a question would in effect not merely allow an additional layer of legal routes for resolving conflicts and ordering behaviour but would actually deprive members of the minority community of rights and liberties that they were entitled to enjoy as citizens; and while a legal system might properly admit structures or protocols that embody the diversity of moral reasoning in a plural society by allowing scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions, it can hardly admit or ‘license’ protocols that effectively take away the rights it acknowledges as generally valid.

You might find him a wishy washy liberal, but IMHO he is well read and at least he had the balls to raise the issue in the first place – whilst others are only keen to bluster in his wake.

Blair develops lean and hungry look. Will he bring in the Euro?

I’ve amalgamated two stories here – one on Blair about to become head (permanently) of the EU which I read in the Guardian on Saturday. Thoughts of Tamburlaine and Augustus Caesar rolled into one spring to mind. England was not enough. The opening two paras are from there. The other is from an interesting website which features European news called EU reporter. Good story EU people. They seem convinced we will have the Euro any minute. A second picture divides the two features.

Tony Blair has been holding discussions with some of his oldest allies on how he could mount a campaign later this year to become full-time president of the EU council, the prestigious new job characterised as “president of Europe”. Blair, currently the Middle East envoy for the US, Russia, EU and the UN, has told friends he has made no final decision, but is increasingly willing to put himself forward for the job if it comes with real powers to intervene in defence and trade affairs.

Blair, who is being actively promoted by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, recognises he would need to abandon his well-paid, private sector jobs if he won. His wife Cherie – often portrayed as seeking ever more wealth and well-paid consultancies for her husband – is understood to be supportive of him accepting the job.

Some Blair allies also say that he now recognises that as envoy in the Middle East he is not going to be allowed to become the key player in furthering Israeli-Palestinian talks this year, and will be reduced to a role of supporting political development in Palestine and boosting its economy.

BRITAIN WILL JOIN THE EURO – PUT MONEY ON IT BUT DON’T FIX A DATE

There is absolutely no solid evidence to suggest it but this publication predicts that by the end of the month of January Britain will have announced that it intends to join the euro.

We were right about Tony Blair being the lead candidate for the first permanent President of the European Council – heads of state and governments below which ministers of the 27 member states meet on their specific portfolios. We said that 18 month ago to hoots of derision.

Tony Blair launched his campaign in Paris last Saturday and was supported by French President Nicolas Sarkozy who said: “When we appoint the president of the European Union I want us to set the bar high and not aim for the lowest common denominator.”

As to the euro, even Chris Davies the euro enthusiastic Liberal Democrat MEP who pushed his Britain in the euro campaign forward after we debated the point with him initially told us that the idea that Gordon Brown was about to join the euro was “a bit far fetched”.

But we have been tipped by a senior banker in Luxembourg that he economic crisis facing Europe “is bigger than anyone is prepared to admit”. “The banks are desperately short of money,” he added, referring of course to euro zone banks.

In short: the euro zone needs Britain. There couldn’t be a better selling point for a change of fiscal strategy than, coincidental, firstly with the arrival of the reform treaty as the EU constitution is now known – secondly with the onset of a campaign to put former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the driving seat backed by Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and the vision of former Chancellor Gordon Brown riding to the rescue of the euro.
In a rather long-winded interview with the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme recently Gordon Brown highlighted that the British economy was strong with a global reach while America was in recession and the euro zone unable to reduce interest rates because of galloping inflation.

This makes a fascinating backdrop for the highly controversial summit of the EU’s euro group made up of France, Germany, Italy and the UK to be held in London at the end of this month.

It gets more interesting when, as we were told by the UK’s permanent representation to the EU, Chancellor Alistair Darling is “to host” a preliminary meeting in Paris the day after tomorrow January 17.

While the British media focus on the protests from other member states, particularly Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister, at the ‘arrogance of four large member states’ meeting apart from the 23 other member states it is, perhaps, more interesting to consider the agenda. There isn’t one.

At least, the agenda, if fixed has not been announced. The official reason for the meetings is described as “in response to the global financial crisis how will we respond.
It is also curious that no decision had been taken as late as tonight (Tuesday) on whether the President of the European Commission would be invited.

Chris Davies is one of the brighter British MEPs and he quickly changed his slant – if not his position – as we debated the issue with him. Keen to promote Britain’s membership of the euro he had done the research and highlighted the question of Gordon Brown’s five economic tests.

On the telephone to Strasbourg it was possible to sense Mr Davies’ brain whirring. He provided us with the five tests in a flash by email. They are:

Are business cycles and economic structures compatible with eurozone interest rates on a permanent basis?

If problems emerge is there sufficient flexibility to deal with them?

Would joining the euro create better condition for firms making long-term decision to invest in Britain?

What impact would entry into the euro have on the UK’s financial services industry?

Would joining the euro promote higher growth, stability and a lasting increase in jobs?

Well what about that then? The pound has dropped 10 percent against the euro surely making a switch more favourable? Leaving for the moment the second question would joining the euro create better conditions for firms making long term decisions to invest in Britain? No company wants to invest in a country with volatile exchange rates. That one is a no brainer.

What impact would joining have on the UK’s financial services? EU legislation, introduced since the five tests were drawn up, allegedly in the back of a taxi by the then assistant to Brown Ed Balls, now govern all, or most aspects of financial services across Europe.

The fifth question is subject to the fundamental reason for holding the Paris and London meetings in the first place. Both the UK and the eurozone are desperate to protect jobs and would be happy with simple, straightforward stability.

But what of the second question? Nicolas Sarkozy has been banging on recently about France having more control over EU interests rates and therefore over the European Central Bank. We have been reporting on this fundamental French position for ages but now the president has come clean.

The bank of England was given a questionable independence by Gordon Brown as Chancellor.

As Chris Davies thoughtfully concluded: “Britain is the worlds fifth largest economy. If nothing else membership of the euro would put the UK within the world’s largest.”

He might have added that the UK has the second largest economy in Europe after Germany. But as Gordon Brown said on the Today programme Germany has been, and still is, in recession.

Nicolas Sarkozy has famously told the French people to think like Anglo-Saxons and to speak English. France, as we have reported, is in a parlous economic state.

As we spoke Chris Davies suggested that opposition in the UK would be so huge that the idea we were presenting was fatuous. But then, professional that he is he pondered out loud on the telephone: “The Conservatives are fuzzy on the reform treaty. That issue has the Conservatives on the back foot. That issue has gone quiet. Gordon Brown needs some sort of fight. Joining the euro would take everyone’s mind off the constitutional issues.”

He disagrees that Tony Blair is favourite for the presidency citing Anders Fogh Rasmussen the former Danish Prime Minister as a more likely candidate. We disagree. The EU may have changed but there is a long tradition of appointing candidates from large states to such new and important posts.

Besides, you don’t have to be an economist to ask where are the European banks and the eurozone economy without the fifth largest economy in the world. It would certainly suit New Labour to see Tony Blair, recently converted to Catholicism, as the first president of the EU and right now the negotiating chips are all in Gordon Brown’s pocket.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 24 January 2008 )

Shocking how much you can remember with a little help.

Loss of memory as one ages has been increasingly in the news. I found this superb story in the Independent today about an accidental discovery by scientists that electrically stimulating a deep part of the brain can improve memory radically.

Scientists performing experimental brain surgery on a man aged 50 have stumbled across a mechanism that could unlock how memory works.

The accidental breakthrough came during an experiment originally intended to suppress the obese man’s appetite, using the increasingly successful technique of deep-brain stimulation. Electrodes were pushed into the man’s brain and stimulated with an electric current. Instead of losing appetite, the patient instead had an intense experience of déjà vu. He recalled, in intricate detail, a scene from 30 years earlier. More tests showed his ability to learn was dramatically improved when the current was switched on and his brain stimulated.

Scientists are now applying the technique in the first trial of the treatment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. If successful, it could offer hope to sufferers from the degenerative condition, which affects 450,000 people in Britain alone, by providing a “pacemaker” for the brain.

Three patients have been treated and initial results are promising, according to Andres Lozano, a professor of neurosurgery at the Toronto Western Hospital, Ontario, who is leading the research.

Professor Lozano said: “This is the first time that anyone has had electrodes implanted in the brain which have been shown to improve memory. We are driving the activity of the brain by increasing its sensitivity – turning up the volume of the memory circuits. Any event that involves the memory circuits is more likely to be stored and retained.”

The discovery had caught him and his team “completely by surprise”, Professor Lozano said. They had been operating on the man, who weighed 190kg (30st), to treat his obesity by locating the point in his brain that controls appetite. All other attempts to curb his eating had failed and brain surgery was the last resort.

The treatment for obesity was unsuccessful. But, while the researchers were identifying potential appetite suppressant points in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain associated with hunger, the man suddenly began to say that memory was flooding back.

“He reported the experience of being in a park with friends from when he was around 20 years old and, as the intensity of stimulation increased, the details became more vivid. He recognised his girlfriend [from the time] … The scene was in colour. People were wearing identifiable clothes and were talking, but he could not decipher what they were saying,” the researchers write in Annals of Neurology, published today.

The man, who has not been identified, was also tested on his ability to learn lists of paired objects. After three weeks of continuous hypothalamic stimulation, his performance on two learning tests was significantly improved. He was also much more likely to remember a list of unrelated paired objects with the electrodes turned on than when turned off.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Professor Lozano said: “His performance improved dramatically. As we turned the current up, we first drove his memory circuits and improved his learning. As we increased the intensity of the current, we got spontaneous memories of discrete events. At a certain intensity, he would slash to the scene [in the park]. When the intensity was increased further, he got more detail but, when the current was turned off, it rapidly decayed.”

The discovery surprised the scientists as the hypothalamus has not usually been identified as a seat of memory. The contacts that most readily produced the memories were located close to a structure called the fornix, an arched bundle of fibres that carries signals within the limbic system, which is involved in memory and emotions and is situated next to the hypothalamus.

Professor Lozano is a world authority on deep-brain stimulation who has undertaken 400 operations on Parkinson’s disease sufferers and is developing the technique as a treatment for depression, for which he has performed 28 operations. He said the discovery of its role in stimulating memory had wide implications.

“It gives us insight into which brain structures are involved in memory. It gives us a means of intervening in the way we have already done in Parkinson’s and for mood disorders such as depression, and it may have therapeutic benefit in people with memory problems,” he said.

The researchers are testing the approach in six Alzheimer’s patients in a Phase 1 safety study. Three have so far had electrodes surgically implanted. The electrodes are attached via a cable that runs below the skull and down the neck to a battery pack stitched under the skin of the chest. The “pacemaker” delivers a constant low-level current that stimulates the brain but cannot be perceived by the patient.

Professor Lozano said: “It is the same device as is used for Parkinson’s disease. We have placed the electrodes in exactly the same area of the hypothalamus because we want to see if we can reproduce the findings in the earlier experiment. We believe the memory circuits we are stimulating are close by, physically touching the hypothalamus.

“It is a very effective treatment for the motor problems associated with Parkinson’s disease and it has been used on 40,000 people. We are in the early stages of using it with Alzheimer’s patients and we don’t know if it will work. We want to assess if we can reach the memory circuits and drive improvement. It is a novel approach to dealing with this problem.”

British researchers welcomed the discovery. Andrea Malizia, a senior lecturer in psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol who is studying deep-brain stimulation as a treatment for depression, said: “If they had said let’s stick an electrode in the hypothalamus to modify Alzheimer’s disease, I would have said ‘Why start there?’ But, if they have had a serendipitous finding, then that is as good. Serendipitous findings are how a lot of discoveries in science have been made.”

Ayesha Khan, a scientific liaison officer at the Alzheimer’s Disease Society, said: “This is very cutting-edge research. It is exciting, but the initial result is in one person. It will need much further investigation.”

Deep -brain stimulation has been used for more than a decade to treat a range of conditions including depression, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

It has been so successful in treating Parkinson’s that 40,000 patients worldwide now have electrodes implanted in their brains driven by pacemakers stitched into their chests.

As the devices become smaller, requiring less risky surgery, and the target areas of the brain requiring stimulation are more precisely identified, demand for the treatment is expected to leap. Although it is expensive, the potential savings in care and treatment costs are immense. It does not lead to dependence on drugs and is reversible.

The electrodes are implanted under local anaesthesia while the patient is awake. Before the operation, the neurosurgeon performs an MRI scan and establishes the target location for the electrodes. He then carries out a craniotomy – lifting a section of the skull – and inserts the electrodes and leads. By stimulating the electrodes and checking the patient’s response, the surgeon can check that they are positioned in the right place.

Different areas of the brain are targeted for different conditions. For Parkinson’s disease, they are placed in the subthalamic nucleus; for depression, in area 25 of the cingulate cortex.

Deep-brain stimulation was developed in France and first licensed by the Food and Drug Administration in the US in 1997 as a treatment for tremor. In the UK, the surgery is performed at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, in Bristol, in Oxford and at a handful of other centres.

The name of the procedure is in some ways a misnomer as it often involves inhibiting electrical activity in an area of the brain rather than stimulating it. The technique is as much about restoring balance between competing brain areas which leads to the tremor characteristic of some types of Parkinson’s disease.

Online scrabble squabble.

One of my friends recently confessed he had been obsessively playing online scrabble. Hence this article caught my eye – about the version of Scrabble that’s been used by half a million people on facebook – and the implications thereof. The cartoon at the top is by Doug Savage, the article from the New York Times by Dan Mitchell.

S-q-u-a-b-b-l-e By DAN MITCHELL

THIRD-PARTY applications are supposedly the secret to Facebook’s success.

So far, though, the applications fall mainly into two categories: the silly and the annoying (and sometimes, both). Users can throw virtual sheep at each other or take part in zombie attacks on their friends. Recently, many users received a message entreating them to “click ‘forward’ to see what happens.” After clicking, users discovered that nothing happened except that they had annoyed their friends with a pointless message.

Many Facebook applications are “for toddlers,”writes Kara Swisher, the technology journalist and blogger for All Things Digital. The “kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children,” she wrote in October.

But there are some applications that levelheaded adults can enjoy, even if they are still just a waste of time. One example is matching knowledge of movie trivia with that of friends.

Another example is also one of the most popular, Scrabulous, which is clearly a knockoff of the board game Scrabble. It is a wonder that Hasbro, which owns Scrabble in the United States and Canada, and Mattel, which holds the rights for the rest of the world, took so long to take action. But this week, they finally sent a letter to Facebook asking that Scrabulous be removed from the site.

Scrabulous was developed by two brothers in India. Its popularity is a major driver of traffic to Facebook, where a reported 500,000 members log on to Scrabulous each day.

Dozens of Facebook groups have been created to “save Scrabulous.” The biggest had more than 23,000 members late this week, days after the letter from Hasbro and Mattel was made public. Most group members seem to understand that the companies are merely protecting their rights, and many think that the game makers will reach some sort of understanding with the developers of Scrabulous, allowing the game to stay. A Hasbro spokesman said as much in a statement, asserting that the companies are seeking an “amicable solution.”

Josh Quittner of Fortune magazine’s Techland blog thinks that is just what should happen. “If I were an evil genius running a board games company,” he wrote, “I might do this: Wait until someone comes up with an excellent implementation of my games and does the hard work of coding and debugging the thing and signing up the masses. Then, once it got to scale, I’d sweep in and take it over. Let the best pirate site win!”

As for Facebook, Scott Nichols, a blogger for PC World, sees the dispute as the latest in a string of embarrassments for the company. “Another Facebook gaffe,” he called it.

What the papers – or should I say, screens, say.

The second of the two articles featured here appeared in the online edition of the Guardian today, but it was actually about the Telegraph. Journalists of my acquaintance have complained bitterly about the bloodletting and culling done at the Telegraph, which used to be one of the bastions of good journalism in this country. The jolly tone of the Guardian article does not match the dark mood of the journalists. So I have done what papers (screens?) sometimes do and balanced this by preceding it with an article from a journalist from another source. It’s almost like seeing a government-sponsored article against one from a more radical perspective. And in a savagely ironic twist the incredibly well written feature on journo life by the Grey Cardigan, from the press gazette website, is now only available in print.

The Grey Cardigan: 2007.10.5

5 October 2007

A FEW weeks in and here at the Evening Beast we’re finally getting to grips with Crystal Tits and Alistair – our new editor and her fey, handbag-carrying deputy. (That’s her handbag, by the way.)

Conference still takes an age. You can actually watch the bowl of flowers on the table wilt as we stagger from indecision to impasse. (The exotic flowers are replaced daily and the fridge is restocked with expensive varieties of mineral water every night, a matter of little amusement to our van drivers, who’ve just had their hours cut as another tranche of our print run is handed over to wholesalers.)

Nervous Nigel, the current news editor, reckons he’s got it sorted, slipping in a supermarket story at number four on the list. We discuss the first three contenders – ongoing murder, council cock-up and overcrowded trains – for what seems hours before she takes the bait. “Ah, this story about Tesco selling clothes online. That’s interesting.”

A features department functionary points out that it’s hardly a local story. Yes, we’ve got four different varieties of Tesco on the patch, but this is all about the internet. And yes, it’s worth a run, but not on the front … His shins are viciously hacked beneath the desk until he subsides. So, bang, in it goes and we can all crack on with the job in hand.

Later that day, Crystal Tits takes delivery of her company car. She climbs into the back while Alistair gets behind the wheel as they set off on a test drive. One of the aforementioned van drivers swears that, when they went past him on the bypass, Alistair was wearing a chauffeur’s cap.

AS EXCLUSIVELY revealed here a couple of weeks ago, our old friend Liz-f*****g-Jones has been given Peter Dobbie’s prime slot at The Mail on Sunday – and I’m not sure it’s working.

(my asterisks)

Apart from the eyebrow-lifting admission that she’d had a breast reduction at the age of 20 for “fashion reasons”, it’s been run-of-the-mill stuff. (Do we need hyphens there? If the publishers of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary feel they can dispense with 16,000 of the buggers willy-nilly, so changing our written language without as much as a by-your-leave, then I’m going to stick them back in wherever I fancy.)

Of course, it’s difficult to maintain standards when you’re still eking out the pitiful detritus of your miserable marriage in You magazine – and presumably still entertaining the mad and abandoned 40-year-old divorcees who live their lives vicariously through your jousts with the toy boy – but I do fear that the Derry Street bigwigs might have overestimated Liz’s appeal to mainstream readers.

This week, Liz was upset that people were constantly being rude to her. I obviously wouldn’t stoop that far, but has it occurred to her that anyone who admits to feeding her “fur babies” human food, stalking other women and wearing gloves and socks to bed might be regarded as a sandwich short of a picnic by the rest of the population?

MEANWHILE, mother-of-three Lowri Turner admits that if she’d known how much fun dogs were, she’d have thought twice about having children.

“Having a dog is fun in a way that having children is simply not. When I return from work, my four-year-old is apt to wail ‘Where have you been?’ in a pathetic yet accusatory tone. Vanilla just runs round in circles, barking excitedly – always pleased to see me.

“There are no nappies or bottles to sterilise with puppies. No teething granules or measuring out Calpol while a mewling infant struggles in your arms… puppies do have a habit of disgracing themselves on your carpet, but when you’ve dealt with dirty nappies for seven years you are battle-hardened.”

Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that if only dear Lowri had been introduced to the delights of canine ownership a decade ago, she would have been spared the anguish of childbirth.

NOT A great day for The Guardian last Monday. Hence the following day’s Corrections and Clarifications column, which had to: apologise over a picture of a completely innocent man being used in a story about a fake drugs gang; wring its hands over the mysterious re-use of a story that was actually first published in the paper last November about a council selling off a Lowry painting; and shuffle shamefaced towards the dunce’s corner after over-estimating by almost 90 per cent the number of boys who leave school each year without a GCSE to their name.

(Do they have subs any more? Do they care? Don’t they read their own paper? Don’t they check difficult sums?)

But worse, much worse than this, was the fact that the Inkies on the press also stuffed them by leaving out the page carrying the Media Monkey Diary from that week’s supplement. Again, why did no-one notice? It is, after all, the only thing worth reading in that section.

Things weren’t exactly looking up by Friday: “We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and Clarifications column on September 26, page 30.”

Roll the acid tones of that around your tongue then spit it onto your screen while you read this more restrained piece from the guardian page –

Much has been written about the hub-and-spoke editorial floor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph — but I have to say that it is a terrific working environment, not least because of the wall of giant ever-changing screens and the lofty space. From the inside it has the vitality of an old-fashioned newspaper but with the benefits of a 21st-century building. Down on the floor, with 4pm conference approaching, there is a familiar hubbub as a newspaper nears deadline. Although, of course, the paper now has many deadlines following editor Will Lewis’s famous “big bang” integration.

The group that is credited with having been the first to introduce a national paper website — and subsequently fell way behind in the online stakes — decided it needed to take a giant and swift stride into the future. In a breathless couple of weeks it moved offices, dispensed with scores of staff, and announced itself as a multi-platform, all-singing-all-dancing integrated paper. Now it is engaged in another form of integration by gradually merging the staffs of the Daily and Sunday titles.

My visit came in the wake of the decision to create a seven-day business division under the leadership of Damian Reece. He gave me a detailed hypothetical example of how a writer is expected to treat a running story. Stage one: a quick text story on the website to break the news. Stage two: updates as and when necessary on the site. Stage three: if a video or audio clip seems appropriate then he/she will go into the studio, located on the same floor. Stage four: as the day progresses the writer gets both extra background and reaction, some of it from contributions to the site. This will help in the writing of a more analytical and contextual piece for the paper.

That is a rather mechanical description of what tends to happen. As Reece says, it’s fluid in practice. He was also at pains to stress that the seven-day coverage by what amounts to a pool of business journalists will not rob the Sunday title of its distinctive quality. It does retain a dedicated City editor.

Lewis, for internal political reasons, avoids the “seven-day” phrase. For him, the quest for integration between screen and newsprint has built what he calls “brand reciprocity”. He says: “The biggest issue we face is serving a growing market across the globe. Integration helps us pursue this aim, providing us with a structure that makes best use of our resources.”

Both he and Reece stress that writers are discovering a new rhythm to their working day as they adjust to new rotas and the continual deadlines. Many journalists work on two screens. Chris Lloyd, the assistant managing editor, explains that staff find it helpful to move between the two, having one permanently logged on to the content management system, the other for email or a TV channel. Evidently, the Sydney Morning Herald is considering a two-screen approach too.

Meanwhile, all the staff know which are the most popular stories online from a projected wall screen which provides instantaneous feedback.

There was no discernible panic. But I did get the feeling, enhanced by some private comments from staff, that the Telegraph had tried to accomplish too much too quickly. I’m also unconvinced by the double-screen approach. But Lewis, backed by the owners, has bounced the papers into a new multi-platform era from which there can be no turning back. “There is a virtuous circle between print and web,” he says.

War veteran says “no” to £10million for his £60K house. There’s hope for us all.

I heard this story on the Today programme and later found it in Metro.

Jack Holsgrove has created a one-man property gloom after vowing to stay firmly beached in one of the world’s most expensive coastal retreats, Sandbanks shown above in Dorset.

He has been bombarded by multi-million-pound offers from estate agents and developers eager to buy his home of 35 years.

Sadly for them, Mr Holsgrove is refusing to budge. After all, his three teenage granddaughters probably wouldn’t approve.

‘They could offer me £50million, but I won’t change my mind. My granddaughters love coming on holiday here. They’d kill me if I sold up,’ said the 86-year-old.

The World War II veteran, who helped develop the bouncing bomb, paid £60,000 in 1972 for his five-bedroom beachfront house in Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset.

In 2001, a £1million flat sale made it the fourth most expensive neighbourhood in the world behind Hong Kong, Tokyo and Belgravia.

‘Britain’s Monte Carlo’ soon had the super-rich jostling for a view of the world’s second-largest natural harbour after Sydney.

It is now home to the likes of Portsmouth football manager Harry Redknapp, son Jamie and his pop star wife, Louise. Mr Holsgrove’s neighbours recently sold up for £12million and he now receives offers of up to £10million.

But the former property developer has shown each frustrated estate agent the door.

‘I’m just not interested. What would I do with £10million?’ he asked.

January 15th. First flood warnings of the year for Britain.

The areas of Britain most affected by floods in July of last year – the picture shows sandbags being delivered then, perhaps a little after the event – are now receiving their first flood warnings of the year. A word or two from local residents from the bbc report this morning…..

Kelly Bartlett, of the Longlevens Flood Committee in Gloucester, one of the city’s worst-affected wards, said the council had begun last-ditch efforts to widen and deepen the brook which runs through her area and residents were busy lining the streets with sandbags.

“We’ve only just moved back into our homes after the flooding last summer,” she said.

“It’s ridiculous. We can’t live like this, every time it rains we’re running home to save our possessions.”

Many flood warnings have remained in place since Friday, when flash flooding brought roads and railways to a standstill.

The agency said it expected the number of flood warnings to increase as the bad weather crossed Britain.

A spokeswoman said people in areas where warnings are in place should take action against potential flooding of homes and businesses.

The agency advised people to continually check the flood information section of the Environment Agency website, which is updated every 15 minutes.